Juan de los Muertos (2011) 1 brain1 brain1 brain

Alternate Titles:

Juan of the Dead

Picture Cuba for a moment: a small isolated island nation with a government-controlled media. What worse country could there be for a zombie outbreak? The government will deny what's really going on, and people who turn to the media for their information won't realize the scope of their danger until well into the outbreak. Once they do realize the danger, their options for flight are limited. Not to mention that given the typical weather in Cuba, those zombies are going to smell pretty ripe.

The titular character Juan (Alexis D?az de Villegas) takes all this in stride. As he likes to point out, he's survived several different events in Cuban history (Mariel, the Special Period, and "that thing that came after"), so he should be able to handle this. He and his best friend Lázaro (Jorge Molina), after surviving the initial outbreak of "dissidents" (as the government insists on calling them), decide to turn a profit by forming a dissident elimination squad, along with various others including Lázaro's ladykiller son and Juan's estranged daughter. They reminded me of nothing so much as the Ghostbusters, getting phone calls asking them to come on location to rid a homeowner of some pesky zombies (watch out for the ones from Spain).

Juan and Lázaro aren't squeaky clean heros. They're petty criminals living in the bad part of town, but they're likable and don't lack in chutzpah. The film hit some off notes for me in some instances of surprising callousness, but as Juan has pointed out, they're survivors. It does help that the characters are made much more human by their relationships with each other, but Juan's and Lázaro's general indifference to people outside of their immediate circle (other than making money off them) is one of the themes of the movie.

Overall I liked this effort from writer/director Alejandro Brugués. It has a light-hearted tone that makes it fun to watch, but it's not totally inane, either. There are some spots where the film is rough around the edges, it's a fine film with which Cuba can enter the zombie film world.